Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Very odd title to this piece in the Guardian. The idea is to re-iterate that not only Armenians were killed in the Turkish slaughters of 1915, but also Pontic Greeks and Suriani. Fair enough, and no problems there - but the title is "Forgetting the Christians who were slaughtered is nearly as bad as denying it happened." Now, it's not my period (habitual historian get-out clause) but to my knowledge one of the primary reasons that the Armenians were a targeted minority within Turkey was the fact that they were, well, Christian.

Oh and watch for some tasty revionism served up in the comments: Armenians were a dangerous fifth column. And not that many were killed anyway. So that's all right then.

Monday, October 30, 2006


The BBC gets extremely het up about acusations of bias. Biased BBC goes the extra mile to demonstrate what it sees as evidence of a permanently skewed mind-set. As someone who started blogging in response to continued rage at the Today programme it probably goes without saying that I am continually infuriated by various incarnations of the BBC's attitude.

As Andrew Marr has recently admitted, the bias is not due to a conscious espousal of one side over another, more a reflection of a remarkably shallow pool of talent from which the majority of employees are drawn. Someone has referred to the problems resulting as 'mistaking cosy consensus for impartiality'.

So it was without much surprise, but a sort of weary shake of the head that I read the plot synopsis for today's episode of Spooks.

Adam (Rupert Penry-Jones) is sent to infiltrate a Christian extremist group that is launching a terror campaign on Muslim targets. He finds his man and discovers a planned attack on a mosque in Manchester, but his mole has also caught the eye of the Israeli secret service, who pick an inopportune moment to attempt an assassination.

So, the terrorists are extremist Christians (an extremely pressing problem in the UK at the moment as I'm sure we can all agree) who are trying to explode bombs in a mosque (as opposed to the much easier method of just sitting back and waiting for them to explode all by themselves) and this is all exacerbated by the Jews (I mean c'mon!) who try and assassinate British Christian informers, to prevent the prevention of the bombing of a mosque.

This all sounds like some tinfoil-hat wearing moonbat conspiracy theory. And it is impossible, absolutely impossible, to imagine the BBC commissioning a drama where extremist Muslims conspire to kill Christians, and for hostile Muslim Governments to get entangled in internal British security. That'd just be the news.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Breaking news...

Or it was in January anyway. An Egyptian Islamic cleric, Rashad Hassan Khalil, a former dean of Al-Azhar University's faculty of Sharia has issued a fatwa that "being completely naked during the act of coitus annuls the marriage." Pause and reflect on the delicious insanity conjured up by that. At least other Egyptian clerics take a more balanced and realistic view of life within a loving and tender relationship.

Al-Azhar's fatwa committee chairman Abdullah Megawar argued that married couples could see each other naked but should not look at each other's genitalia and suggested they cover up with a blanket during sex.

So - is it OK if she keeps her stockings on and he wears his socks? (answer: it is never Ok to wear socks in bed. Ever ever ever.)

UPDATE: It is, however, perfectly permissable to have a threesome, provided you're all married to each other anyway. Cheers to Meph in the comments.

On that subject

As suspected, the DK has his own inimitable take on this - but probably not best suited to those of a sensitive disposition or with bad office porn shui. It's more of a take-down of the actual policy suggested by la Hewitt, but you know, it's all good.

Tide of revulsion

If you want to know the true nature of the New Labour project there are a couple of events that help. The first was displayed in the aftermath of the Dunblane shooting, which had shocked the Tory Government enough to enact pointless and swingeing legislation that, while doing nothing to prevent gun crime, was nevertheless a symbol of revulsion at the crime (an iniquitous basis for legislation but there we are). The two party leaders, Major and Blair, had visited Dunblane together and agreed that this was a tragedy above politics, and that petty point-scoring would be tasteless. Spool forward a matter of weeks to the Labour Party Conference where a new pledge to ban handguns completely is unveiled - and who is there providing the sign translation? One of the mothers of Dunblane, tears streaming down her face. A nice way to exploit the tragedy for party political gain while appearing to be caring. The signs were there from the outset.

The next one that really sticks out is the announcement of the 2001 General Election. Traditionally done from the floor of the House of Commons, it was decided to do this instead from St Olave's (from memory) where, standing in front of a lectern, framed by a stained-glass window, Tony Blair, after a hymn, announced the date of the election to an audience of non-voting schoolchildren and pressmen. Matthew Parris remembers Alistair Campbell sneezing and being unable to get the words 'Bless you' past his lips. He wrote then that, surely, eventually a tide of revulsion at the sheer awfulness of this shower of bastards (something of a paraphrase but you get the drift) would eventually sweep them all into the sewer whence they had crawled.

And now, today, another example of this appalling set of human beings. Patricia Hewitt, whose name is anathema to Mr Eugenides and, of course, DK, decided to make an announcement about taxation policy - specifically that the rates charged on alcohol are too low and should be raised. As a man with a healthy appetite for booze of most descriptions but a pronounced distate for alcopops her inane witterings on how Smirnoff Ice is too cheap might have evinced merely a weary shrug or half-hearted curl of the lip, while her use of the useless statistics on 'binge drinking' (two glasses of wine a night? That's not a binge; this is a binge etc.) would only have made me bang my head against my desk in exasperation. It was the setting of this announcement that really made the Reptilian blood boil.

She disclosed her ambition in an interview with the winners of a children's newspaper competition, who straightforwardly asked her for an exclusive. In a departure from normal Whitehall protocol, she told the children - all aged under 11 - about the normally secret correspondence with the Treasury.

Gaaaaah! They are a smug, po-faced, hypocritical, sanctimonious bunch of whining shits. The swearing count for this blog has definitely diminished of late, so I'm unable to compete with either Mr Eugenides or the Devil on this, but every time I hear one of these sick-making announcements I want to pull the head off the Minister making it and make them eat it.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Say What?

Further to my posting about the politics of rape laws below, a nice little story comes in to tie up all the loose ends. The Mufti of Sydney, Sheikh Taj Aldin Al-Hilali gave a sermon over Ramadan that really went that extra mile to prove the moderate nature of Islam and the ease of its assimilation into mainstream Western culture. The Sheikh, who has lived in Australia for over 20 years and holds a position of significant authority as a religious figure, gave Australian Muslims the benefit of his considerable expertise on the subject of sexual equality and assault.

Sheik Hilali said there were women who "sway suggestively" and wore make-up and immodest dress ... "and then you get a judge without mercy (rahma) and gives you 65 years".
"But the problem, but the problem all began with who?"

"If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat," he said.

"The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred."

So there you have it. The product of 20 years assimilation believes that woman who don't sit in their room alone wearing a hijab are to blame if they are raped. Fortunately, this being Australia rather than the UK, the politicians have already made their positions clear.

The idea that women are to blame for rapes is preposterous. I not only reject the comments, I condemn them unconditionally. John Howard

Make it clear to Muslims that this is not the view of Islam and that they must really take some kind of action to disassociate themselves from the comments which Sheik al Hilali has made. And take some action to try and pull him into line. Peter Costello

Two really nice touches as well to this, which kinda demonstrate the bait and switch and the 'who me?' defences.

A Muslim leader has likened the comments to Pope Benedict XVI's recent speech about Islam that provoked violent street protests. "The Pope used an inappropriate quotation and people said he should be removed from the papacy and something inappropriate has happened here also." Gee 'inappropriate'? You think? And yes it's exactly the same as quoting a 14th century Byzantine: why bother quoting a medieval monarch when you hold to a medieval belief system anyway?

President of the Islamic Friendship Council of Australia Keysar Trad today said Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly's comments had been misrepresented in a newspaper report. "If they go back through the history of all his commentary, they will find he has been a very strong supporter of women's rights." Yeah, we're getting that message all right.

It's like every so often they let their guard down and reveal what it is they actually believe. And then slam the barriers down again and demand not only respect for but subservience to their beliefs. I really hope this chap's not representative of mainstream Islamic thought, even in Australia, but it's like the Archbishop of Sydney just called for the death penalty for homosexuals.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Strange and unaccustomed feeling

I'm not the sort of chap to defend Hillary Clinton all that often. If, as seems probable, she is adopted as the Democrat candidate for the '08 elections she'll take her fair share amount of stick (and plenty more probably) but her opponent in the Senate race for New York went a little bit below the belt. John Spencer is reported to have said some very unflattering things about the former First Lady:

"You ever see a picture of her back then? Whew," he said of Clinton's youth. "I don't know why Bill married her." He speculated she'd had "millions of dollars" of plastic surgery, and added that she looks good now.

Not having seen a photo of Spencer (and in any event not qualified to comment) I do think that Hillary's taking some unfair stick on this. Her response, however, hit just about the right note, after jokily asking assorted journalists if they wanted to check for scars (note to Hillary: never attempt this in England) she defended her younger self - saying that she thought she was 'a bit of a cutie' back in the day. Readers can judge for themselves, I'm only saying that she was no child scarer.

Seems only reasonable

That's the spirit lad, get it off your chest, better out than in...

Oh that convention!

Jsut in case any of us doubted that Parliament is now a complete waste of time, lets look at this little exchange from Prime Minister's Questions - the one time that the Prime Minister has to respond to questions from MPs on the floor of the house.

Mike Weir, SNP Angus, asked about the prospect of Mr Blair being questioned by police in relation to the cash-for-honours inquiry, asking how he would explain the fact that 80p in every pound donated to Labour came from people given honours.
Mr Blair, who denies wrongdoing, said he had "no intentions" of debating that issue and asked why Mr Weir did not want to debate the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections.

Mr Blair then answered his own question, saying that the reason was that the SNP policy of "ripping" Scotland out of the UK would be a "disaster for Scotland and a disaster for the UK".

What a relief that the Speaker of the House picked up Mr Blair on his total failure to answer the question, and rebuked him for focusing instead on the policies of opposition parties. Oh no, wait, that didn't happen at all. If anyone can suggest a use for Gorbals Mick other than an oversize paperweight please write in...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Scams, frauds, banana republics and so on

So the Met Police release a report detailing how the postal vote fraud in London may have affected the results of the local elections (though they have not discussed who benefited). In the publicity about this it is bemoaned that:

minority communities were most vulnerable to the corruption; and that people in minority communities are most at risk because the postal voting forms appear to be so complex.

Hang on a second - isn't the report saying that fraud was more likely among minority communities? Aren't non-minority communities therefore more 'vulnerable' to this scam because their non-fraudulent votes are out-weighed by others' fraudulent ones?

For what it's worth, the absentee ballot should be permitted only to those who are, well, absent. For those who cannot make it to the polling station, an absentee postal vote is a democratic necessity. For those who are either too lazy or too intimidated it is either unnecessary or unfair to provide such a ballot. Postal voting inevitably increases electoral fraud. Since this fraud usually seems to favour our ruling party is it overly cynical to expect this report to be kicked out to the long grass?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tax (Ye Gods not again!)

So George Osborne says precisely what we all knew he was going to say about the Tory tax Commission's report: namely that it'd very interesting, provides an intellectual framework for Conservative policy but that he is not prepared to offer specific, uncosted tax cuts now. This is received at Conservative Home as an abject surrender to the principles of leftism.

I see their point - it's absurd to suggest that there is no scope for cutting spending. Public spending is grotesquely inefficient, and many of the programs are redundant, irrelevant or counter-productive. The proposal to abolish Stamp Duty on share transfers is likely to stimulate financial activity, which should increase revenues from other sources: lower Corporation Tax would probably have a simiar effect, since the benefits to the Company would be passed on either to employees or shareholders in a taxable form.

However, it would be leaving a massive hostage to fortune (more accurately Gordon Brown) to produce specific tax-and-spending plans anything up to 3 1/2 years before the next election. A new spending round is under 'review' as we speak - if the Tories propose cuts to a specific program that is later cut by the Chancellor they look stupid and redundant. Surely it is possible to accept that the wisest policy at present is to allow glimpses of an underlying philosophy without publishing an exhaustive policy statement based on data that will be obsolete by the time of the next election?

Refusing to identify specific cuts now is not the same as accepting that this level of tax and spend is the correct one.

Scientific Stereotypes: Part 1

As one of life's natural arts students I always viewed science bods with a combination of amusement and bewilderment. This was slightly revised when I met my fiancee, at the time a Science bod herself (now happily recovered), but my innate prejudices were hardly dispelled on being invited to have a drink with her lab colleagues.

"Which one's James?" I asked, trying to work out who her supervisor was,
"The one in a black T-shirt and glasses" she replied.
Astute readers might have guessed by now that as my eye travelled along the twelve possible candidates one thing struck me: they were all wearing black T-shirts and all wore glasses.

So it might just be me, but when I read the following an image sprang irresistably to mind:

Physical appearance, driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility, will improve, he says, while men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws, deeper voices and bigger penises.
Women, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features, he adds.

Just the teensiest tiniest bit of wish-fulfillment going on here? Frink out.

Asking for it?

Rachel has a heartfelt and interesting post on the desperately difficult issue of rape and culpability. I would slightly cavil at her treatment of that Amnesty survey that found that a third of people believed that a woman was at least partially responsible but that's a point of detail not substance.

However, the question of consent in rape trials is not a simple one. Rape carries a life sentence, and the overwhelming majority of cases are ones which turn solely on this matter - not whether penetration took place but whether it was consented to. Since most of these cases are 'date rape' rather than 'stranger rape' the question is too often ultimately a matter of one person's word against another's as to whether consent was granted. The maxim that 'drunken consent is still consent' is, in essence, little more than a maxim that makes it impossible for consent to be withheld retrospectively.

Rape is a deeply traumatic event, devestating to its victims, yet the purpose of a trial is to establish whether or not the accused is guilty of the offence. This means that if consent was given, albeit in a slurred voice, it is simply not reasonable to send a man to prison because, on reflection, the victim decides she would never have done such a thing sober.

Rachel is entirely right that a drunken rape victim is much less likely ever to get her story pursued to conviction. She is equally correct that current court room procedures can seem unfairly two-edged (traumatised and emotional? Obviously hysterical; calm and collected? Pah! No trauma there then). The mooted reforms should help rectify some of this, yet the truth is that the majesty of the law is ill-suited to deal with one person's word against another - particularly so if it is made impossible for the character of one of the witnesses to be questioned - how else is it to be determined which side is more likely to be telling the truth?

Ultimately all criminal cases are decided by determining whether or not there is any reasonable doubt as to whether the defendant is guilty or not. In rape cases this is almost always impossible as there is no corroborative evidence. It is important to remember that it isn't the victim whose story is on trial - it is the defendant's. Just because the jury can't rule out the possibility that the defendant is telling the truth doesn't mean that they believe the victim is lying. Do go and read Rachel's blog by the way, it's excellent stuff...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Back in business

Sorta. I hope to be posting much more frequently now anyway. If you want to pass the word I'd be very grateful - some of you are still reading aren't you? Anyone? Hello?

As I was saying

I touched yesterday on the importance of a narrative in politics. As everyone knows, for example, the Bush Administration has spent like a drunken Democrat, chiefly on the industrial-military complex, while at the same time cutting taxes for the rich, leading to a massive and unsustainable deficit which will surely turn the moon to blood and kill us all in Hurricane Katrina.

OK I went off a bit at the end but the high-spending, tax-cutting, deficit-creating bit is widely acknowledged as absolute truth. This is having a damaging effect on the Republicans in the up-coming elections where grass-roots conservatives dislike the end of fiscal sanity, and even centrist liberals dislike the idea of tax-cuts 'for the rich'.

However, truth and narrative have become a bit disjointed.

The deficit, at $247.7 billion, is $175.5 billion less than projected in the January budget, and $48.1 billion less than the White House Office of Management and Budget predicted just three months ago. At about 1.9 percent of GDP, the deficit is lower than it was every single year between 1980 and 1996.

The 2003 tax-rate cuts supercharged business investment, which, in real terms, climbed by 5.9 percent in 2004 and an outsized 6.8 percent in 2005. Not surprisingly, by far the fastest growing revenue source since 2003 has been the corporate income tax. The corporate tax-revenue stream increased 27.2 percent in 2006 after two consecutive years of more than 40 percent growth. Since 2003, total corporate income-tax receipts are up a stunning 168.5 percent — an increase of $165 billion, which happens to be the precise amount the federal deficit shrunk over that period.

Non-withheld individual income-tax receipts, largely capital gains and dividend income, also are up sharply since rates were cut. They jumped 20.7 percent in 2006 (on top of last year’s 31.9 percent bulge) to a record $387.3 billion.

So tax recipts are up, as a result largely of the tax cuts, and the deficit is significantly less than the UK's. Any chance of hearing a change of tune among the 'Bush deficit' merchants? No because some truths are too good, even when they are no longer true.

Mad as a box of frogs

Soooo.....David Blunkett writes diaries in which he admits that the stress of bonking the comely publisher of the Spectator drove him to the brink of madness and left him choking back tears etc etc as he drove away from office. And then it appears that two years previously

He shrieked at me that he didn’t care about lives, told me to call in the Army and “machine-gun” the prisoners. He then ordered me to take the prison back immediately. I refused. David hung up.

The Home Secretary ordered a senior Home Office official to organise the machine-gunning of prisoners. Really, anything one might say in addition to this would be otiose. So I'm going to channel Peej:

What the fuck? I mean really, what the fucking fuck?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Ohhhh Kaaaay

So you have to cover up any visible religious symbols, because displaying religious symbols might be offensive and/or inappropriate - unless the symbols so big and obvious that they cannot be covered up - in which case they're fine. Anyone like to explain the logic behind that position?


First things first. I'm not a statistician. Even the great Worstall got the first Lancet Report spectacularly wrong when he tried to dissect it fully, and I get the feeling that on matters numerate he's a touch smarter a cookie then I am. However, something really seems wrong with that figure. 650,000 - the same number of deaths as the British army suffered in the Great War - a war where 50,000 died in a single day. 50,000 more dead than in the US Civil War. About 150,000 more than British military and civilian casualties in the Second World War. Approaching 8% of the entire population of Iraq. Ten times as many as any other estimation.

It seems to me to be a classic example of analysis, from two Greek words, 'ysis' meaning 'to pull numbers out of'.

The joy of tax

Tax has been occupying my thoughts more and more recently. As a new addition to the global workforce, I notice the hefty slice taken out of my income rather more than the incremental taxation paid on goods and services that you suffer as a student. As I believe I have noted before, the most important thing to acquire in the rpesentational side of politics is a narrative. Cameron has acquired a change-based narrative despite giving jobs to Ken Clarke, Iain Duncan Smith and John Redwood. If he is not careful he will acquire the "all style no substance" narrative as well.

The Labour Party have many narratives, many of them becoming increasingly bleak, but the one they need the most is the "whatever else they've done, they've done a good job on the economy" tag. It was a lack of confidence in their basic economic competence that dished the Labour Party throughout the 80s, a lack of conffidence that was richly merited. Similarly, the stain of Black Wednesday still tarnishes the Conservative brand. As a side point, the Labour Party can consider itself fortunate to have lost the 92 election for this reason - the image of the first Labour Chancellor in 15 years blinking in the press flashbulbs outside the Treasury would have booted them straight out again for a generation.

Yet there are signs that the narrative is changing even here. Just as you can throw pebbles into a lake for a long time before you see them breaking the surface, the economic bad news has taken a long time to filter into a national consciousness. But stories on companies re-locating to avoid high taxation levels; of massive fiscal drag; of 'Tax Freedom Day' stretching well into June: all these stories go to make up a new narrative. This is that the failings of the Labour Government on prisoners, schools, hospitals and foreign policy are equalled by their failings on the economy - and for the same reason.

An overweening desire to intervene permeates this Labour Government; a belief that only through Government action and primary legislation can anything be done. On home affairs this has led to micro-managed chaos in the NHS, on foreign affairs it has led to under-funded and over-stretched armed forces doing too much with too little and on economic policy it has led to vast quantities of taxpayers money siphoning through leaky Treasury pipes in an attempt to pursue social policy objectives through massive spending.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the extraordinary inflation in size of 'Tolley's Tax Code' nearly doubled in size since 1997. Tax, as best explained by Nigel Lawson, should be simple, low and compulsory. It is the particular genius of Gordon Brown that he is batting none from three.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Sion Simon

I have to agree with Guido on this one. Not only is the video toe-curlingly unfunny, but Simon's defence of it on Sky was peculiar in the extreme. Webcameron has experienced a big increase in traffic as a result of the extra coverage, Simon has been widely rebuked by people from his own party and the references to Cameron's wife and kids look really, really badly judged.

The point is that if you want to make a satirical point about the shallowness of David Cameron, it's best to avoid making yourself look like a twat. Whatever you think about the Webcameron idea, and I was impressed that they got a piece from Dr Crippen on there, the best way to attack it is not to make creepy references to his wife and children.

On an unrelated note - didn't Sion Simon famously beat Nicholas Soames in an oyster-eating contest once? While he was a Telegraph columnist?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Spotting connections

One of the elements that goes to make a good historian, or lawyer for that matter, is the capacity to spot trends: patterns emerging out of seemingly unrelated events. As headlines build up over the disturbing extent of prison overcrowding, over the severe and increasing ethno-cultural tensions finding expression through the debate over the niqab, through the kerfuffle over the proposed smoking ban spreading to the streets and through the proposed grant of a tax-free sum to servicemen in Afghanistan and Iraq a pattern does indeed begin to emerge.

It is, simply, that this Government has no concept of joined-up thinking and no real sense of forward planning. Looking at each of these four problems in sequence, it is clear that the same basic problem underlies them all.

First with the prison problem, this Government has greatly restricted the freedom of judges to set non-prison sentences over a wide array of crimes, as well as introducing an enormous number (did I hear 3,000?) of entirely new crimes. The result of this (and for the sake of this argument it is irrelevant what the merits of this policy are) has inevitably been a substantial increase in prisoners. If you create new crimes, and simultaneously make it more likely that a convicted criminal will go to prison what other possible result is there? So, Government policy created a substantial increase in the number of people going to prison. At the same time there has been almost new increase in the number of available prison spaces. A massive increase in demand for prison spaces and no concomitant increase in supply. And people are surprised there's a problem?

Jack Straw's comments on the niqab, commented on exhaustively by almost everybody, were, in essence, a lament for the fact that one certain separate cultural group is resistant to assimilation, and, indeed, flaunts its rejection of 'our' values. It is at least arguable that this is a result of the mass expansion in immigration to Britain over the last decade. Again, one can argue over the merits of large-scale immigration, but once that had been chosen as a policy (whether voluntarily or by default) there were always going to be cultural repercussions. To pursue one policy without addressing the inevitable results is to ignore the fact that actions incur reactions.

With the smoking ban kerfuffle I would direct you to DK's eloquent denunciation, and re-iterate his point: there is a law of unintended consequences; there should be a law of eminently foreseeable bloody consequences as well, and I know which category this mess falls into.

Lastly with the army payments. This Government has sent British troops to war more frequently than any other. Six wars of varying intensity have been fought under its auspices, with no guarantee that more are not on the way. A parallel can be drawn between Labour's view of the State as a vehicle for social change, and the British Army as a force for global change. However, in the case of the State they have jacked up its funding through higher taxation (the bastards) whereas with the Army budgets have been cut even as demands have risen. Understandably morale is through the floor and squaddies are buying their own boots and nicking MREs of the Yanks. In these circumstances a bonus payment is like sticking an elastoplast on a boil.

The common feature is that the Labour Government simply aren't very good at governing. They don't think through their policies, they don't plan ahead enough, they don't draft their laws carefully enough and they haven't realised that back-of-fag-packet policy making designed to win a headline is perfect for opposition and disastrous for Government.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Exams: winging it v swotting

When I were a lad at school, newspapers were still of stories about the inherently patriarchal nature of exams - proved by the fact that boys did better than girls. Accordingly the way exams were done was changed to make them more attuned to the way girls work: more coursework, more opportunities to re-sit, and therefore less riding on the final exam. The only set of exams that still work in the old way is University Final Examinations (at Oxford anyway) and even here elements like dissertations/extended essays are encroaching.

But here's the thing. When boys out-performed girls the motif was always that this proved the inherent unfairness of the exam system. Now that girls out-perform boys at every level (except Finals interestingly) the motif is that boys are inherently useless and anti-intellectual. Well, as far as preparation for life and work is concerned (says he with the magisterial authority of one in his second month of paid employment) the ability to wing it and cram at the last minute is every bit as useful, and often more than, as diligence and swottiness.

But then, since they are scalign back coursework, we can expect a rash of stories over the next few years about how our education system systematically discriminates against girls. Ho hum.

Aaargh - a blinding flash of the obvious

Apparently, and this may astonish some of you so be careful, it is harder to establish meaningful communication with someone if you cannot see any part of their face. This explains why I hate talking on the phone, and try to remember to take my sunglasses off if I speak to someone. It also creates an impression of shiftiness/secrecy, which is why motorbike helmets and balaclavas are frowned on in banks or shops.

It has long seemed to me, and Jack Straw appears to have come around to my way of thinking, that the full veil, or niqab, worn by some Islamic women (though by no means all) is equally detrimental to community assimilation/ease of contact. Living as I do close to the Edgware Road I routinely see gaggles of burqa'd women (presumably women - they might be tethered barrage balloons for all I know), some even with that peculiar brass faceplate that makes them look like an Islamic Viking.

I dislike the sight on purely visceral grounds. Firstly I can never fully reassure myself that it is purely voluntary (I admit this is only my opinion) since it looks so uncomfortable and restrictive that I cannot imagine anyone willingly subjecting themselves to it. Secondly it smacks of possession, especially when the men are often dressed in entirely Western fashion. Thirdly, and for me perhaps most offensively, it implies that men are all ravening beasts, ready to assault any woman if only we can see her chin.

Westerners who visit or live in Middle Eastern countries are routinely urged to show respect for local customs and traditions. Sadly this appears to be one-way traffic only. Still don't like Jack Straw though.

Duty, and other forgotten pleasures...

With all the fuss this week over the policeman who refused to protect the Israeli Embassy during the war in the Lebanon I thought I'd break my radio silence and contribute my two cents. The first thing that sprang to mind was that the police appear to have learnt nothing from the Jean Charles de Menenzes fiasco. The story changed at least twice and possibly three times and it's still unclear what the final version actually is.

The second is that, if the first story were true, and a serving police officer disobeyed an order on the grounds that he personally disapproved of the persons he was ordered to protect, and moreover was indulged in this, then the story is disgraceful. Policemen should no more have discretion in whom they protect than doctors should have discretion over whom they treat. Any hedging on this point is impossible. If the officer had such strong objections to his job, he should have resigned, at least from the Diplomatic Protection Unit, and possibly from the force altogether.

The third and final reflection is that, even if the story doesn't turn out to be quite as cut and dried as that, it still reflects an underlying problem. Where is the dividing line between being discriminatory against ethnic minority employees and treating them as special cases? If we accept that cultural/religious differences should be accepted to some extent - ie: through rules on dress-code or holiday observance - at what point can we say 'we accept some of your cultural difference, but that is going too far'? Is it OK for a lawyer or a banker to wear full hijab in a client meeting? For someone to proselytise female circumcision as a social worker? When do you say, as an employer, that there's such a thing as too much tolerance of difference?

No real answers, just observations...